Family Drama / mystery
World War II
Italy and London
In 1946, Sally Jardine-Fell is in Holloway Prison awaiting trial for murder. A murder, she claims, she did not commit. A product of high society, she is a spirited and promiscuous young woman with a tendency to be a bit wild. As much as to spite her parents as anything, she takes a position as a secretary in a remote Yorkshire village, has an affair with a man she only knows as Adam and is recruited by the SOE (Special Operations Executive). She is sent to Italy to form a honey trap liaison with a prominent Italian politician.
The vast bulk of the book sees Sally telling her story to her solicitors, the rather stiff Mr Somerby and the slightly more bending Cynthia Smart. And quite a story it is: her involvement with the Italian resistance and attempts to flee to Switzerland, including a long period in the company of two German soldiers who offer her a lift and decide to desert as the Allies begin to make inroads into Italy.
Let's get the parts I didn't like out of the way. At first I found the use of the present tense rather off-putting, though it soon became acceptable. Despite the lengthy descriptions of her thoughts and actions during the war, as well as the input from her counsel, the eventual trial only lasted a few days, which seemed far too short for a big murder trial. The denouement was also a little unsatisfactory, but I won't reveal why for that would give the game away. I also worry about the title: with so many characters not being who they appear to be, it is actually perfect and very clever, but the casual browser may dismiss delving further for what they may perceive as a misspelling.
Having said that, I found it hard to put the book down. The action is tense throughout, interspersed with the fact that Sally is on trial for her life. The author knows how to write conversation, too, as it comes over as very natural. The cover, in black and white, depicts a poorly lit street with a shadowy figure hovering in a doorway. Very evocative.
A good read overall, with a variety of characters, some of whom survive and some who do not.
© Richard Tearle